Accommodation: 5 nights in hotels & 15 nights in tents/camp
This long and challenging trek traces a loop along Bhutan’s northwestern border with Tibet. You will travel through some of the most undisturbed wilderness existing anywhere on earth, to observe and temporarily share a form of existence that is probably more completely removed from anything you will ever have witnessed. The trek offers a breathtakingly beautiful lunar landscape, dwarfed by immense glistening peaks, abundant wildlife; including blue sheep, takin and a wide variety of birds and quite possibly the elusive snow leopard.
Your journey begins in the fertile Paro valley, climbing to the base camps of Chomolhari and Jichu Drake, two of Bhutan’s most majestic summits, considered one of the most beautiful and imposing mountains existing anywhere across the great Himalayan range. The route then passes the remote monastic-fortress at Lingshi before crossing the three high passes that separate it from Laya.
The pristine and austere alpine environment of Laya, in northwestern Bhutan, is home to a tribal community of less that 1000 people. Far away from major national centers, the Layaps have yet to become significantly integrated within the country’s mainstream. They are yak-herders and traders, who speak a separate language, sport a distinct dress and are renowned throughout the country for their arresting natural beauty.
At Gasa camp, a soak in the hot springs will be comforting and a long anticipated reward before descending through the lush sup-tropical forests into Punakha and Wangdiphodrang. After having experienced the stark serenity of the alpine north, you will then travel on to the capital city of Thimphu, which should relax and soak up a cultural atmosphere unique to Bhutan.
Best Season: April-May & September-October
Day 01 Arrive Paro (B/D)
Walk over the walkway to Airport and fly to Paro (7,590′), Bhutan, on Druk Air, the national airline of Bhutan. After visa formalities at the Paro airport, you will be driven to the hotel overlooking the beautiful Paro Valley. We’ll have a late afternoon visit to the National Museum, housed in an old watchtower above Paro Dzong (a dzong is a fortress-monastery). The museum’s collections include displays of spectacular thangkas (religious scroll paintings), bronze statues, Bhutan’s beautiful stamps, and the Tshogshing Lhakhang (Temple of the Tree of Wisdom), with its carvings depicting the history of Buddhism.
Overnight in Hotel.
Day 02 Paro (B/L/D)
Drive about nine miles north of Paro town to the trailhead where we start our 1½-hour hike to a tea house, where we enjoy a great view of Taktsang Monastery (its name means “tiger’s nest”), perched on a cliff 2,700′ above the floor of the Paro Valley. Our hike follows a steep switchback trail and serves as a great warm-up for our trek. After a break with tea and cookies, you have the option to sit outside the building and admire the monastery and its beautiful surroundings or, if you feel energetic, to continue another thirty minutes to a closer viewpoint. After lunch at the tea house we descend to the valley floor. Drive back to Paro.
Overnight in Hotel.
Day 03 Begin trek from Paro/Shana (B/L/D)
We drive north of Paro town to the trail head near Drukgyel Dzong (8,462′), where our pack ponies are loaded up with all the gear for our trek. We begin the trek by walking along the Paro River, following it as it winds along past traditional farmhouses with cultivated fields of red rice, chilies, potatoes, and millet. In about five hours of walking, we arrive at our first campsite by the river near the village of Shana at 9,413 feet.
Overnight in Tents
Day 04 Trek to Soi Thangthangkha (B/L/D)
We continue up through the valley of the Paro River, which gradually narrows as the trail leads higher, winding up and down through a thick, lush forest of oak, pine, and juniper. As we get closer to our camp for the night, we begin to see the snowcapped summit of Chomolhari, a mountain that is sacred to the Bhutanese. We camp at Soi Thangthangkha (11,900′). (8-9 hours hiking.) Overnight in Tents
Day 05 Trek to Jangothang (B/L/D)
We continue following the Paro River as the valley widens again, opening to a spectacular area surrounded by high ridges and snowcapped peaks. A few yak-herding families are based in this area, and we may be lucky to purchase some yak cheese from them or have lunch in one of their simple, traditional homes. Camp at Jangothang (13,450′) below a ruined fortress near the base of Chomolhari. (5-6 hours hiking.)
Overnight in Tents
Day 06 Jangothang Halt (B/L/D)
Today is a free day to rest and explore. There are many optional hikes in the area where you can gain altitude quickly, which is good for acclimatization. Of course, you can also opt to stay at camp, take in the views, and rest for the challenging day ahead.
Overnight in Tents
Day 07: Trek Jangothang – Lingshi (B/L/D)
Walk up toward the pass through a wide pasture land. Depending on the season you are there, you might find some yak herders in their camping tents along the way. As you come down after the pass to the Lingshi basin, you will see some beautiful views of the Lingshi Dzong and the valley and also Tserim Kang (mountain) and its descending glaciers at the north end of the valley. Camp in a stone shelter with a built-in fire pit or in the tent. Alt. 4150m. Distance 19 km. Time 5-6 Hr.
Day 08: Trek Lingshi – Chebisa (B/L/D)
Today is the shortest walking day and you can really take it easy. On reaching the campsite at Chebisa, you can visit the village houses if you feel up to it. Alt. 3850m. Distance 12 km. Time 3-4 Hr.
Day 09: Trek Chebisa – Shomuthang (B/L/D)
You walk through a wide pasture land towards Gobu-la ( pass). On the way, you will see few people herding the yaks. After crossing the Gobu -la ( Alt. 4350m ) descend down to the valley. The camp site is on a bench above a river which is a tributary of the Nochu river. Alt. 4260. Distance 17 km. Time 5-6 Hr.
Day 10: Trek Shomuthang – Robluthang (B/L/D)
As the walk is little strenuous, it is advisable to start a little early. After crossing the Jerela (pass) Alt. 4600m you come down to Tsharijathang valley where you can normally see herds of Takins.
Camp at Tsharijathang. Alt.4390m. Distance 15 km. Time 6-7 Hr.
Day 11: Trek Robluthang – Lemithang (B/L/D)
After crossing the Shingela pass, alt. 4900m., you come down and follow the valley. Lemithang is under the Laya District and you will see people dressed in typical Laya costume with long pointed bamboo hats on their head. Camp at Lemithang. Alt. 4140m. Distance 19 km. Time 6-7 Hr. If you have time, it would be advisable to spend a day here exploring the valley and meeting the people who have a different and unique culture.
Day 12: Trek Lemithang – Laya (B/L/D)
Today, you walk all the way downhill along a narrow winding river valley. The trail leads you to the west side of Laya village. Camp site is on a high flat bench above the Laya village. Alt. 3850m. Distance 10 km. Time 3-4 Hr.
Day 13: Halt in Laya (B/L/D)
for rest and to explore the Laya village. Evening a cultural show at the campsite.
Day 14: Laya – Koena (B/L/D)
The trail winds up and down along the river valley avoiding natural obstacles and affording breath-taking views of the crashing river, feeder streams and water falls. Camp. Alt. 3800m. Distance 19 km. Time 6-7 Hr.
Day 15: Trek Koena – Gasa (B/L/D)
You cross the Babela pass, Alt.3740m., after which the trail is all the way down till you reach the camp site which is close to Gasa Dzong. Alt. 2900m. Distance 17 km. Time 6-7 Hr.
Day 16: Trek Gasa – Gasa Tsachu (hot spring)
After a late breakfast, trek (about 2 hr) short downhill to Gasa Tsachu. After lunch relax in the hot spring. The Gasa Tsachu is one of the most popular hot springs in Bhutan.
Camp at Gasa Tsachu.
Day 17: Trek Gasa Tsachu – Geon Damji (B/L/D)
After a short climb, the trail winds through the rolling hills and passes through the pine and oak forests, villages and wheat fields. You will also see a beautiful view of the Gasa Dzong glued to the valley wall seeming to float in space. Camp. Alt. 2280m. Distance 21 km. Time 6-7 Hr.
Day 18: Trek Geon Damji – Tashithang-Punakha (B/L/D)
The trail descends from the high agricultural benches above the Mochu ( Chu means River ) into a lush semi-tropical gorge filled with banana trees, creepers and various tropical vegetation. You will also see monkeys and few other animals occasionally. Trek ends at Tashithang, the road head. Alt. 1700m. Distance 17 km. Time 6-7 Hr. You will meet the transport to drive you to your hotel near Punakha. Overnight Hotel.
Day 19: Punakha/Wangdue-Thimphu (B/L/D)
Spend the morning visiting the sites in Punakha and Wangdi Phodrang, sometimes referred to as Wangdue. PM, drive to Thimphu.
Day 20: Thimphu (B/L/D)
Early in the morning, you can take a self-guided ten-minute walk from the hotel to the Memorial Chorten, a shrine built in the memory of the late king, Jigme Dorji Wangchuk. Many Bhutanese people gather here to pray every day. After breakfast, we’ll begin our sightseeing with a visit to a nunnery on the outskirts of Thimphu. We will then visit the School of Arts and Crafts (or “painting school”), where Bhutanese children can follow an eight-year program in traditional arts, such as drawing, painting, woodcarving, and sculpture.
Based on available time, we may also visit the Traditional Hospital of Herbal Medicine or watch the Royal Silversmiths create relief work for the monasteries and see how paper is made from the daphne plant with cosmos flower petals and other plants. At the end of the day, we may also pay a visit to the great Tashichho Dzong, seat of Bhutan’s administrative and religious center. Farewell dinner with our Bhutanese hosts. Overnight in Hotel.
Day 21: Thimphu/Paro/Departure (B)
Early morning drive to Paro Airport (2hrs) in time for your onward flight.